Powerbeats Review: Almost Pro

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $149
Powerbeats 4 on a white tabletop
Michael Crider

The Powerbeats Pro are arguably the best workout earbuds you can buy today. They’re completely wireless, incredibly stable even during hard workouts, and sound great. They’re also $250, which is pretty pricey for a lot of people. Enter the Powerbeats 4, which feature nearly all of the same features of the Powerbeats Pro, but have a neck cable and $150 price tag.

Here's What We Like

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Super stable fit
  • Killer battery life, plus fast recharge

And What We Don't

  • The cable can get sticky as you sweat, which is annoying
  • I wish they had transparency mode

If I were to draw a direct comparison between the two, I’d say that the Powerbeats 4 (which are technically just called “Powerbeats” and will be referred to as such henceforth) offer 90 percent of the Pro experience for 60 percent of the cost. They have a very similar fit and sound just as good.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re just the Pro with a wire. When I wrote up the announcement post, that’s honestly what I assumed they were—but when I got my review unit the next day, I realized I was wrong. They’re not that identical.

As such, I’ll do my best to cover the new Powerbeats in comparison to the Pro model, but also make it clear for anyone not interested in directly comparing the two and just want to know how the Powerbeats are on their own.

Fit, Features, and Battery Life

Powerbeats top view
Cameron Summerson

The new Powerbeats feel slightly smaller than the Pro model overall. That means they fit slightly differently (but only slightly). The ear hook is also more limber on the new model, presumably because of the soft rubber coating around the cable instead of the harder plastic hooks on the Pros.

Those two things combined make for a pretty different experience between the two. In my testing, which involved wearing the Powerbeats during lots of indoor cycling (shoutout TrainerRoad!), I found that the Powerbeats shift around a lot more than the Pros, mostly because of the cable that connects the two ‘buds.

Because it has a rubber coating, it starts to stick to my neck as I sweat, which means it tugs and shifts to one side as a move or turn my head. I find this to be the biggest issue with the Powerbeats, as I really wish the cable was coated in something less sticky—perhaps like the cloth-like material on the Jaybird Tarah Pro. That would’ve gone a long way to making these more practical while working out.

But I also sweat a lot and have no hair to catch any of it, so you may not have the same issue with these that I do. And if you don’t, then hell yeah for you.

I also want to touch on the fit of the ear hook itself. Like most other hook-style ‘buds, the Powerbeats are fully adjustable. You can bend and manipulate the hook to fit your ear, which may take a little bit of time to get just right. But once you do, they don’t move (unless the band sticks to your neck and tugs one side or the other out of place 🙃).

The Powerbeats Pro compared to the Powerbeats
L: Powerbeats Pro; R: Powerbeats Cameron Summerson

They also come with four sets of tips: small, medium, large, and a double-stacked small-style tip that looks wider than the others, but is actually the smallest of all because it’s tapered. I have pretty big ears (and I guess earholes?) so I wear the large tips on both the Powerbeats and the Pro, which gives excellent noise isolation.

You also get control of your tunes with the Powerbeats. There’s a volume rocker on top of the right bud and the Beats logo is play/pause. A double press of the play/pause button skip to the next track, while a triple press goes back. The left bud has the power button and that’s it. All pretty standard stuff.

The power button on the Powerbeats The volume rocker on the Powerbeats L: The power button on the left bud; R: the volume rocker on the right bud

I also want to quickly talk about battery life. Beats claims the Powerbeats get up to 15 hours of life (six more than Powerbeats Pro!), and that seems pretty accurate to me. So far I’ve used them for around 12 hours without a recharge, which is honestly close enough to the 15-hour claim for me to be happy with it. If you do find yourself in a pinch with dead ‘buds, though, a five-minute bump will get you an hour of playback. Can’t argue with that.

Speaking of charging, like other modern Beats ‘phones, these charge over Apple’s Lightning cable. Also like the others, I wish they use USB-C, but it is what it is. Like the Powerbeats Pro, they also feature Apple’s H1 audio chip for almost-instant pairing with Apple devices, as well as advanced functions like “Hey Siri” detection. It has been suggested by some that devices with the H1 or W1 chip don’t sound as good on Android as iOS, but after many comparisons, I can’t tell a difference. At all. Ever. Take that for what it’s worth.

Sound Quality: Powerful Beats

There’s this weird misconception about Beats’ sound quality. People often think they’re “boomy” because of the bass-heavy misbalance of the Beats by Dre from years ago. Today, that’s not really an issue. Like, at all.

Powerbeats showing the ear tips
Cameron Summerson

In my experience with Powerbeats, I found them to be quite balanced. Sure, they have very pronounced bass, but that doesn’t overpower the mid and treble in the slightest. For a set of headphones with no app, no ear mapping, and no built-in EQ, they sound pretty damn good out of the box. No complaints from me—they’re clear, defined, and balanced.

As I mentioned in my Sennheiser HD 450BT review, my favorite track to get a feel for a set of headphones is Rocky by The White Buffalo. It may not be the perfect song for testing frequency responses, but I still find it to be a good first-impressions track at the very least. I have other tracks on my headphones playlist for hitting all the different frequencies.

When I popped the Powerbeats in my ears and played this song for the first time, I felt it. The second the first strum of the guitar hit, I knew it was going to be a good experience. I listened to the song at least five times in a row because something about this song on a good set of headphones just takes me to a different place.

I think there’s just something so motivating and inspiring about the way music is delivered through a good set of headphones. And I think that’s even more important in a set that’s more or less designed to use when working out. During those hard workouts, the ones where you don’t know if you can finish, music can be the very thing that pushes you over that hump. Good headphones breathe life into your favorite tracks in a way that says “yeah, you have one more set in you.”

Powerbeats deliver that.

So, What’s Missing?

Powerbeats on a white background
Cameron Summerson

When it comes to features, the Powerbeats are very similar to the Powerbeats Pro. That means they’re missing certain features, like noise canceling or any sort of transparency option. And just like the Pro, I find this to be a huge bummer because they have the same H1 chip found in the AirPods Pro.

The upside, at least when it comes to noise cancellation, is that you can get a pretty damn good seal with one of the included tips and that gives these excellent noise isolation. It won’t block out the subtle hum of an engine or whatever, but in my experience, it does a good enough job to block out most noises.

But in pretty much any set of headphones that are missing transparency features, I really miss it. That’s easily my favorite feature of the AirPods Pro. I also understand why Apple is currently choosing to hold this tech hostage for the time being—it’s the biggest selling point of the AirPods Pro, and throwing it in other headphones would immediately devalue the company’s flagship earbuds.

Still, I hope to one day see both AirPods Pro-level noise canceling and transparency mode in some Beats in-ears. Both features are available in the Solo Pro on-ear headphones, so I see no reason why we can’t at least hope to see it in the next iteration of the Powerbeats Pro, too.

Conclusion

Powerbeats on a white background
Cameron Summerson

I think it’s really easy to recommend the Powerbeats, especially to anyone looking to get an excellent set of workout buds that sound great and stay in place. At $150, you get a lot of the experience—sound quality, fit, etc.—of the more expensive Powerbeats Pro, and the main tradeoff is the neck cable.

At the same time, that’s also these ‘buds biggest downside. If the cable was fabric coated instead of just rubber it would really help, but as it stands it can be quite annoying when you start to sweat and the cable sticks to your neck. That’s not a good enough reason to stay away from these, however, because they’re damn-near perfect in almost all other aspects.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $149

Here’s What We Like

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Super stable fit
  • Killer battery life, plus fast recharge

And What We Don't

  • The cable can get sticky as you sweat, which is annoying
  • I wish they had transparency mode

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and serves as an Editorial Advisor for How-to Geek and LifeSavvy. He’s been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. Read Full Bio »

The above article may contain affiliate links, which help support Review Geek.